Many media companies struggle with adding or integrating digital staff while keeping the larger operation running smoothly. Some of the issues are broad and strategic: Should the Web staff be placed in a separate operation or attached to existing groups? Should the digital folks report up through the marketing department, editorial, IT, sales? Should the sales team be all one group selling everything, or split among print or broadcast and digital? There are also crucial tactical questions: Should individual publications or TV shows have dedicated Web staff or pull from a shared group?
In a forum at the Magazine Publishers of America, and in complementary discussions and research, we explored these issues. Here are tips you can use when deciding how to organize your staff for digital success:
- Set the tone at the top. How well the operation runs depends on how committed management is to success in digital sphere. “That’s more important than any organizational structure,” says Michael Silberman, general manager of NYmag.com, the New York magazine website. Toni Nevitt, president of eMedia Advantage and a former top executive with Nielsen media (home of The Hollywood Reporter, Mediaweek and a bunch of other trade publications) says the digital side must report to a company CEO who not only agrees with the digital group’s metrics for success — revenue, audience, subscriptions, etc. — but also can “give them the tools and resources they need” to achieve that success.
- Be flexible. Be prepared to move staff and freelancers and outsourced operations around. “Whatever structure will be in place today will be different a year from now,” says Hachette Filipacchi COO Philippe Guelton. “As digital business increases and print people get more familiar with the medium, we’ll continue to evolve.” Be prepared, too, to reconfigure as markets evolve. When the book “Eat This, Not That,” by Men’s Health editor David Zinczenko became a hit, Bill Stump, who runs MensHealth.com and is the brand manager for the Men’s Health as well, had to assign staff new duties to handle the influx of traffic
- Assign someone to “own the brand”. There needs to be an individual who makes sure the publication or show is well-represented wherever it appears — print, books, digital, events, etc. That person will make sure everything is working holistically under the brand rubric, and represents the ethos wherever it touches the consumer. At MensHealth.com, for example, “we make sure our online content is up to the quality of the magazine,” Stump says. “That’s not always the case online.”
- Integrate as much as possible. Bring the digital and other staff closer together, on both the editorial and sales sides. Make sure each knows what the other is doing, so efforts are coordinated and can be mutually supportive, and so credit can be assigned and rewarded across the organization. For example, if corporate sales is working on an event or database marketing initiative, is the digital staff aware and supporting it?
- Communicate! We have yet to find a media organization in which the different components are perfectly integrated. There has to be a lot of communication, especially when departments are compartmentalized. Sales, for example, may be organized by geographic territory on the print side, but by ad agency for digital. The print and digital sales teams need to keep each other well-informed who they’re approaching for what client to make sure they’re not giving the same people conflicting and confusing messages and so that the right group gets credit for its component of a multi-platform sale. It’s also a good idea to have a digital sales exec situated with the print or corporate groups to facilitate communication in both directions.
- Match the organizational structure to the success metrics. Guelton’s digital operation is separate from print, in large part because they have different aims. “In print our culture is brand-centric and content centric,” Guelton says. Online, he says, “we need to be more user-centric, more useful to the consumer,” which may be as much about aggregating material from others as it is about creating new content. At Hachette, the print experts are already experts in their subject areas — fashion, cars, photography, and so on — and there is no need to duplicate that expertise in the online staff.
- Place the digital group effectively. If you have the digital team report to the marketing department, you’ll end up with marketing as a priority and may not have a high-performing editorial team online. Likewise, if you put it in IT, you may have good technology, but not such good marketing or editorial.
- Assign “core functions” to a centralized IT division. Heavy-duty coding, content management systems, code-intensive database management and the like need to be centralized, the experts agree. It’s too costly and wasteful to have separate IT departments for everyone, and also causes IT headaches when systems aren’t compatible or equipment isn’t standardized.
- Have dedicated Web staff, too. Individual publications (or shows) can have staff to handle what Guelton calls “non-core” IT functions, things like Web design or simple HTML coding duties for the individual sites. Silberman notes that if an individual publication feels it needs something done but isn’t able to get it high enough on the shared IT department’s priority list, it can use some of its own budget to outsource that task and get it done.
- Watch the workflow. If your workflow is designed for print, and not digital, you may have to reconfigure it. One client of Nevitt’s wasn’t able to increase staff to handle digital, so they, instead, divided the staff into layers. The first group would create and edit the content, the next group would produce the content for print or digital distribution.
- Look for change agents in the organization, people who may not know a lot about digital media but want to be part of it. You can reorganize a staff even if you can’t hire for online.
- Provide the right incentives. You want to sell more subscriptions online? Make sure that whoever does a good job gets credit and compensation. Give digital incentives to communicate to sales, so that they will claim whatever part of a sale they make. But be careful about how much you talk about numbers, and to whom. “When I’m talking to the young (editorial) staff, I don’t talk about numbers,” Stump says. He wants them creating great material for the users. “I sometimes feel there’s not nearly enough emphasis on the quality of the editorial online as on the magazine” in the industry, he says.
- Choose the structure that’s right for you.Whatever your structure, “there is no one answer,” says Nevitt. “It’s what works for you, based on what success looks like. How much you can invest versus what the return is going to be.”
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Watch video of the panel, here, on ScribeMedia.org. Make sure to click the “browse video list” button to get the videos of all the segments from:
* Michael Silberman, General Manager, NYMag.com
* Bill Stump, VP, brand editor of Men’s Health, editor MensHealth.com
* Philippe Guelton, COO, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.
* Toni Nevitt, President, eMedia Advantage (pictured at right)
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